After setting up camp in Phuket, Thailand for the past two years, Mike “Quick” Swick has seen his health and training improve to the point where a return to the Octagon was not only a possibility, but something he felt he owed himself to do.
“The best thing I ever did was move on from fighting and not have the stress related with being a fighter,” he said. “I moved to Phuket, Thailand and started to build AKA Thailand, and I was just training fighters, eating clean and getting my weight back. I was walking around at over 200 pounds, which I never reached even when I was a middleweight. I weaned myself off the medicine I was taking and the esophageal spasms didn’t happen anymore. For the first time in eight years I was able to eat, train, and feel strong.”
Swick will test his theory Saturday night against Dominican-born Canadian Alex Garcia at UFC 189 inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas - a city Swick has seen plenty of action in since he was a cast member on the very first season of The Ultimate Fighter.
There is nothing more frustrating for any professional athlete than when his body doesn’t cooperate with his aspirations. Injuries are one thing, because they are tangible. You break a rib, you know what happened, and you know what it takes to heal it. But when you have a mysterious illness and you’re misdiagnosed several times and put on several different medications over the years -- and still nothing seems to help your condition -- that will take its toll on anybody, never mind someone who fights for a living.
“After UFC on FOX 4 and 5 I moved on from fighting,” Swick said. “I was trying to get my health fixed for so long, and between prescriptions for the wrong ailments to experimental medicines and new diets, it was a long, frustrating process. And then I ended up getting on one medicine that was healing me, but it affected my training and I had to go off of it to train, so then my illness came back. So when I fought DaMarques Johnson at FOX 4 I won but that was a lackluster performance, and we all know what happened against Matt Brown.”
If you don’t, Swick was starched at 2:31 of the second round.
By all accounts, it was a sad ending to a career that had more than its share of highs and lows. Couple that with the fact that Mike Swick has always been a fan favorite, and one couldn’t help but feel for the guy. He was known as the nice guy on TUF 1, and he always has something nice to say about everyone in the sport. A product of San Jose’s American Kickboxing Academy, home to Cain Velasquez, Luke Rockhold, Daniel Cormier, Josh Thomson and several other top-tier fighters, Swick has been around the sport more than most.
And while seeing his team thrive and produce multiple champions while he was away made him happy, it didn’t make him force himself back into action.
“It’s awesome seeing these guys be at the top of the sport,” he said. “The team has been so successful over the years and I’m excited to be back in the mix. As far as Cain’s loss I do think the altitude had a lot to do with it. It affected everyone obviously, but Cain goes so hard and he’s such a good athlete that it’s tough to see something hindering him. He looked wounded, but Werdum had a great game plan.”
So does Swick believe he has the ability to surprise the welterweight division?
“I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think I could surprise everyone and make a good showing,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is come back and repeat UFC on FOX 5. I would rather never fight again than ever look like that again. I am the most confident I’ve ever been for a fight. It was the best camp in my life. I built this gym hoping to build the best gym in the best location, and I’ve put it to the test with my own comeback. It worked great and I will be very disappointed if something goes wrong.”
Indeed, Phuket is an ideal location for both fighters and fitness enthusiasts. The weather is ideal and the nation is known for its warrior culture. It is not uncommon to see children fighting in Muay Thai competitions to support their families. But Swick says there’s even more to Phuket than just the weather.
“The demand is here, but it’s also affordable,” he said. “Athletes can come here and train and not have to work two and three jobs like we do in San Jose. It’s not the hustle and bustle of America. There are beaches you can relax in, and there’s no stress. Now add in that Phuket is the land of Muay Thai. This is a fighting culture, and some of the best trainers and champions are here to train with. It’s really hard for authentic Muay Thai trainers to travel outside of the country, so when you come here, they are all around and they love to teach. It inspires a warrior mentality in everyone who comes here.”
While you can follow Swick’s “comeback” on his YouTube channel where he taped his journey to UFC 189, he doesn’t necessarily want you to call it a comeback.
“I’m just going to go in there and have fun,” he said. “Garcia is well-rounded and very explosive, so I expect this fight to be extremely exciting. I have gone back to my roots and have been working on my striking. I’m out here training guys, so obviously my game has gotten so much better. My jiu-jitsu is really good now too, because of the sheer amount of time I do training. It’s all we do.”
Swick was home in San Jose back in March for the birth of his second daughter. While there, he stopped by AKA and started sparring and rolling with his teammates, which motivated him to give the Octagon one more run. But don’t think he will credit his daughter for the resurgence in his interest to return to fighting.
“If anything, the birth of my daughter was against me getting back in the Octagon,” he said. “My wife and mother have seen me struggle with my illness. They’ve seen me force myself into the ring. They’ve seen me on the different medications, etc. The last thing they wanted to hear was that I was getting back in, but in the end, they are supportive. They know that I’m healthy now and that I am sort of owed this opportunity to prove to myself that I can do it. I want nothing more than to go out there and perform with a healthy body and mind. I owe it to myself.”